Isn't it interesting how easy it is to see God as good when life is going smoothly? Isn't it interesting how thankful we can feel- how grateful we can be when we are feeling blessed beyond belief? When our spirits are higher than the clouds and there's not a care in the world, it's not too difficult to trust God, because He's delivering. We feel like He's close to us. He's answering our prayers and giving us everything we need. It's visible. It's tangible. Trust is a no-brainer.
Then things take a turn, and those who were previously content to trust in the Lord's Will suddenly put Him on trial. I've seen it happen again and again. They begin to interrogate Him. They begin to question His legitimacy. "God, if you are who you say you are, why is this happening?" "This doesn't line up with what I thought I knew about you." "I was told that you were loving." "Until you show me something... until you give me some answers, I'm not sure that I can go along with this."
Our duplicity is shocking. We allow God to sit in the Judge's seat as long as He rules in our favour. But as soon as it looks like He's ruling against us, we toss Him into the witness box for questioning. We say, "Cough up some answers, God, or I'm walking out."
And it reveals our heart.
The moment we begin to demand some answers from God, it shows that we don't really believe in His Divine nature. If we can give the Lord an ultimatum and demand that He answers to us, then who's really playing God in that scene? We act like God is accountable to us for His actions. He needs to justify Himself. Explain Himself. Prove Himself. And if He doesn't, then we have the right to back out of our "commitment," which begins to look more like a conditional contract.
It's so easy to do. I've often prayed, "God, why did you show so many miracles to the people of Israel? Why did you heal so many people? Why did you show signs from Heaven? If you did it for them, why can't you do it for me?"
It's a fair question. And it's got a remarkably simple answer.
As I've been reading through the Gospels, I'm starting to notice a pattern. Jesus performed many miracles. It's true. However, there is something about His different audiences that, once I noticed, could not ignore.
Mark 6:4-6 - "Jesus told them, "A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family." And because of their unbelief, he couldn't do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief."
Mark 8:11-12 - "When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign."'
However, I cannot even begin to count the number of times Jesus says, "Your faith has made you well," or "Because of your faith, it will happen," or "Just have faith." The faith of the people corresponds to the signs Jesus performs.
I also am overwhelmed by the amount of times Jesus talks about receiving the message of the Kingdom of God with humility. Again and again and again and again He reprimands those who think they are righteous, and He reminds people that the Kingdom of God can only be received by those who accept it like a child. For those who listened to Jesus skeptically and observed His miracles haughtily, His signs and wonders had no effect on their proud, stubborn hearts. However, for the sinners and outcasts who saw Him perform the very same miracles, they repented! They believed! They followed!
Why would a single miracle have such drastically different effects on those who were watching? I don't think it has much to do with the miracle, itself, but with the attitudes of the spectators. The ways in which the spectators came to listen to Jesus revealed how they would receive His miracles. For those who came with pride and arrogance, the miracles hardened their hearts even more. For those who were suspicious of Jesus, envious of His popularity, or looking for ways to test and trap Him, the healings had no effect on them. But for those who came with faith, they were amazed. For those who understood their own brokenness, they praised God when they watched Jesus' works and heard His teaching. For those who understood that they were sinners, they found forgiveness, mercy, and healing. The same miracle had two profoundly opposite effects on the onlookers, so clearly, it was not the miracle that gave them faith. Rather, it was their attitude. Pride vs. humility. Self-righteousness vs. repentance. Pretension vs. meekness.
And in light of this truth, I think it gives insight into the times in our lives when we feel "entitled" to a sign from Heaven. There is one parable of Jesus that makes this reality as clear as day. The story He gives talks of a rich man who lived in luxury and for pleasure, and a poor man named Lazarus who lay, day after day, at the gates to the mansion. Eventually, both men died. The starving, sick, broken beggar was taken to Heaven, while the rich man found himself in Hell. When the rich man sees Lazarus in distant paradise with Abraham, he begs for a drink of water. When refused, he has one request:
Luke 16:27 - "Please, Father Abraham, at least send [Lazarus] to my father's home. For I have five brothers, and I want to warn them so they don't end up in this place of torment!" But Abraham said, "Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote." The rich man replied, "No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God."
But Abraham said, "If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead."'
Wait, what?! They won't believe and repent, even if they saw someone rise from the dead? Sounds preposterous. We think to ourselves, "Um, that would work for me." We think that if we saw the parting of the Red Sea, or The Manna from Heaven, or The Feeding of the 5,000, or The Transfiguration, or the hundreds and hundreds of miracles listed throughout the Bible, we would never doubt again! And upon thinking this way, we somehow imagine that we are better than all of the children of Israel who still turned away from God. We think we are better than the Disciples who walked with Jesus throughout His entire ministry and still denied Him.
The truth is, we are no better. We demand a sign, thinking it will give us faith that is unsinkable and trust that is bulletproof. We think the SIGN will be enough. But the sign, alone, NEVER IS. We know this, because of what Abraham said to the rich man in the parable. For those who do not listen to the Word of God, not even the resurrection of the dead would be enough to turn them to repentance. Miracles are wonderful. Signs from Heaven are glorious. But they only have an impact on those who are listening humbly. It's a matter of the heart. Always.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees demanded that Jesus show them a sign to prove His authority, He had already been performing miracles like crazy. He had already fed five thousand, four thousand, healed thousands, cast out demons, and his fame had been spreading across the entire region. Isn't it funny how these leaders just needed "one more sign" for them to believe? They wanted one more miracle as proof. The thousands of signs they'd already seen and heard about were not quite enough. They needed just. One. More.
And Jesus refused them.
He knew that "One more sign" wouldn't convince them. Signs don't convince anybody whose hearts are hardened by pride. Miraculous signs didn't convince Pharaoh. His heart was hardened by pride. Jesus described this tendency of man to be stubborn, and therefore miss the point of the miracles and teachings:
Matthew 13:14-15 - "When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes- so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them."
God has given us signs. He's shown Himself to all of us. If we are demanding "one more sign" as a condition for our faithfulness to Him, we can be sure that it wouldn't do much good. Pride hardens our hearts. Pride dulls our spirits to the Holy Spirit. Pride makes us think we have good reason to challenge God. But the truth is, He answers to no one. But, when He chooses to show Himself, it is the childlike and the humble who accept it. It is those who recognize their place as lowly and broken, and see Him for who He is: unfathomable, immeasurable, boundless, self-evident, indisputable, and above all.
Those who receive Him and believe Him are not those who think they are right, but those who know they are sinners.
Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Not the middle, and not the end. Fear of God is literally the foundation of understanding. Humility is the first step in accepting and receiving the Kingdom of Heaven. Recognizing how little we know is fundamental to learning more. Proverbs 11:2 tells us that pride leads to disgrace, but humility leads to wisdom! How can we learn if we think we are better than the teacher? How can we understand if we think we are higher than the Lord? How can our hearts be changed if we are demanding GOD to change? How can we follow after Jesus when we are trying to lead Him?!
Our questions never dethrone God. Our misunderstandings never threaten His Sovereignty. He's been asked every question any person has ever had, and no question has ever been too difficult for Him to answer. However, no question has ever forced Him to provide an answer! He is God, and we are His Creation. We don't know everything about Him, but that doesn't mean we can't follow Him. We don't know everything about our earthly fathers, but that doesn't mean we can't love them. We don't know everything about our friends, our teachers, or our role-models, but that doesn't mean we can't trust them. And if we can love and trust these fallible humans who will disappoint us, why do we have so much difficulty trusting obediently in the One Supreme Being?
His miracles reflect off the hardened heart. But they leave their impressions on the tenderhearted. Those with humility. The childlike at heart. The meek. The ones who acknowledge their weakness and sin. The ones who repent. The ones who know their need for a Saviour. The ones who allow their hearts to bleed before God. We're told by Christ that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the childlike. It belongs to the softies.
It's ridiculously easy to demand answers from God.
But it's ridiculously difficult for such answers to have an effect on a proud heart.